Czechs increasingly concerned about threat of swine flu pandemic


Just hours after the Czech health authorities ruled out the presence of the swine flu virus in the first three suspected cases, five more were reported. Press agencies brought news of the first swine flu related death in the US and several confirmed cases of swine flu in neighbouring Germany and Austria, increasing public concern about a possible pandemic.

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK With news of the first swine-flu related death in the United States and more confirmed cases of swine flu on the continent, Czechs are beginning to take the health risk very seriously. People have been taking pharmacies by storm buying up all the face masks and the anti-viral drug Tamiflu on stock.

Doctors say their phones haven’t stopped ringing in the past few days and people come to consult them about the slightest signs of a cold or cough because they are worried it might be swine flu. With planeloads of people arriving from high risk destinations every day Czechs are worried that the suspected cases are merely the tip of the iceberg and that it will only be a matter of hours before the Czech Republic reports a confirmed case of swine flu.

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK Wednesday’s Hospodářské noviny carries details of a national crisis plan for a pandemic which envisages – as a worst case scenario – up to 3 million infected and up to 12 thousand people dying of the swine flu in the country. The plan was originally made for a possible bird flu pandemic in 2004 – and involves closing down schools and turning them into emergency wards, the distribution of face masks and anti-viral drugs to the public and measures to protect people in key professions such as doctors, nurses, public transport drivers and so on.

The Czech health authorities have been doing their best to stem people’s fears, calling on the public not to panic and warning people against taking the Tamiflu drug as a preventive measure or to treat a common flu –saying this creates a risk that the drug would cease to be effective and this could be a real problem in case of a pandemic. Teams of specialists are working on a vaccine – but it could take up to three months to produce and test one - and another 14 days for it to work once applied.

Security measures are in place at the country’s international airports, but they hinge on personal responsibility – there are no thermal cameras as yet – just a team of medics who have an office on the grounds of the airport and people are encouraged to report to them for tests and medicine if they have come from a high risk destination and are not feeling well. However, the authorities say they are ready to introduce thermal cameras and stricter measures if necessary.